Skadron and Mullins

Mayor Steve Skadron and Councilwoman Ann Mullins made up two of the three votes to pass a comprehensive flavored tobacco ban in Aspen on Monday night, which was the last official act of the council before new members were sworn in.

In its last policy decision before a new board was sworn in, Aspen City Council voted 3-2 Monday night to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco within city limits.

The measure took an odd path on its way to become law. Councilmember Ann Mullins, a strong proponent of the measure, was absent in the previous meeting. Her vote was needed to see the measure through to an all-out ban, instead of just one that addressed e-cigarettes.

Over the last two years, council has heard presentations from Dr. Kim Levin, the Pitkin County Board of Health’s medical officer, about the detrimental effects of tobacco on youth. This led to council raising the minimum age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21 and a public vote significantly increasing taxes on tobacco.

Levin contends that the flavors offered in vaping products are marketed to children, including things “creme brulee” and “cotton candy.” She previously presented data to council showing that teens who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely to become smokers and that the Roaring Fork Valley has among the top rates of teen vaping in the state.

A handful of teenagers spoke during public comment, all in favor of passing the ban. The students, as young as middle school through high school seniors, all said they see their peers using tobacco products, or already trying to kick the habit. Aspen high senior Emma Dominguez pointed out that students that are 18 or older can go downvalley and buy products not subject to the 21 age limit in the city. They then sell them to younger kids within the school, she said.

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“It’s a bigger issue that’s happening not just in Aspen but all over the world,” Dominguez said.

Council members Bert Myrin and Adam Frisch voted against the measure. Both have expressed hesitancy toward the ban as a borderline government overreach.

“I remain supportive of the goal but I still believe we’ve moved away from helping youth,” Frisch said.

Councilmember Mullins was joined by Ward Hauenstien and Mayor Steve Skadron in approving the measure. Mullins said the studies they’ve been shown over the course of their discussions point specifically to the effectiveness of a comprehensive ban that addresses all flavored tobacco types, not just vaping products. She said along with overwhelming support from the community, to her there was only one option.

“I don’t know how council could not vote in favor of this amendment,” Mullins said.

The new ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. It includes cigarillos, snuff and chew, and classifies menthol as a flavor, meaning menthol cigarettes will be banned.

Later in the summer, city staff will propose a strategy for spending the additional tax dollars that have been raised since the tax hike went into effect. CJ Oliver, environmental health and sustainability director, said that the proposal will focus on in-school tobacco prevention programs, with funding on a two-year delay from time of tax collection.

Alycin Bektesh is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at Alycin@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @alycinwonder.